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I hold two bachelors degree and after that went straight to finish a PhD degree. I have recently landed as a postdoc in a German university in the region Rhineland-Palatinate.

During the hiring process the administration started complaining about me not having a master degree. My postdoc advisor intervened skillfully and arranged that if my bachelor studied credits added up to a German bachelor plus master then I could be hired, as it happened.

The process was real quick but when signing the contract they tell me I would be in Stufe 1, not counting the 4 years of my PhD. Then they tell me with the agreement of my advisor they could modify this. I got his agreement.

Today, they told me that in fact they cannot count the PhD with the following reason

Thank you for the documents. However, we can only recognize professional experience if you have completed the degree required for employment. This usually corresponds to a Master's degree. Since we do not have a Master's degree in your case, we have to take the doctorate as the required degree and can therefore only recognize the professional experience from June 2023. You will therefore remain in Stufe 1, but remaining periods will be recognized for you, which will allow you to move into Stufe 2 early.

The question of course is how can I negotiate with the administration.

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  • What position is this? Postdoc or more permanent?
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 21:19
  • @Buffy postdoc position Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 21:23
  • Are you being hired and paid directly by the university or through some third party funding from your professor? If it is the university directly you will need to come to an agreement with HR but if it is third party funding, your professor has a lot more power in the decision.
    – quarague
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 8:23
  • @quarague I am paid by an ERC grant, so I'm assuming it is third party funding Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 9:08
  • 8
    I worked for three different universities in Northrine-Westfalia. So the same government, same TV-L (very similar to TV-ÖD), but really different interpretations of the same documents. One considered University of Cambridge (UK) as Fachhochschule, one did not. One considered a PhD as sufficient substitute for a German diploma, one did not. One considered my PhD as experience, one did not. There may be some room for negotiation, but not by you, but some senior member of the faculty, like e.g. a dean. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 11:16

5 Answers 5

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The best way to enter negotiations with the university would be to find a "Präzedenzfall", i.e., a case of a person in a similar situation who had their PhD time counted as relevant work experience despite having no Masters degree. Ideally, this case would have been at the same university or at least within the same federal state.

If you find such a case, it is also worth checking with your advisor who within the university administration is actually able to make decisions on cases that don't fit within the German academic norms (in Germany you would not be able to get a PhD without Masters). Often, people in administration will simply quote back some regulation without consulting with higher level administration in these "special" cases.

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  • Also, I know of at least one person who was put on "Stufe 13/3" without having a Masters degree. If you add any information to your profile on how I can get in contact with you, I'm happy to share more details. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 6:29
  • I added my email to my profile. Thank you Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 6:46
  • How would you do that? This is confidential information and I don't think you can find such a Präzidenzfall yourself.
    – user9482
    Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 4:31
  • You’re right that such information isn’t likely to be publicly available. The best source would be word of mouth. Given how much fuss universities can cause in such cases, you’ll likely know about them if they are within your network. Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 8:13
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With my experience you cannot negotiate with administrative staff directly. You can make them aware of the agreement with the professor, but they won't negotiate directly with you because they are just administrative employees.

However, what you could do is to talk to your professor about this or someone else important at the university (head of faculty or head of department). They will likely have access to someone who is little bit higher up in the chain of command and they might be able to help.

Nonetheless, if you are at public university there might be some laws and regulations set by the state. Even if professor promises you something that they later discover is not allowed there is little you can do.

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Find out how to contact the Betriebsrat, and ask them to intervene on their behalf. If you don't know the German concept, a Betriebsrat is roughly analogous to an organization-internal union which represents the employees' interests.

That being said, it's not clear whether they (or anybody else) will be able to resolve this in your favor. In the cases I have seen, at two different academic institutions in Germany, it was the administrations' decision that counted, and the advisor was not able to do anything about it, no matter how much clout he had in the faculty pecking order. We've lost good people, more than once, because of a bad Eingruppierung; from the point of view of administration, that's not their problem. Their task is to keep the spending on personnel as low as possible.

Nevertheless, do try the different avenues available to you - advisor, Betriebsrat, maybe even a lawyer, especially if you have legal insurance and can get consultations for free. Somebody might find a way to talk the administration in accepting your experience.

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  • 2
    Universities usually have a Personalrat (since it's public service) instead of a Betriebsrat. Same thing, but correct search term may help OP to find them. Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 20:06
  • "Their task is to keep the spending on personnel as low as possible.": I don't think this is (at least officially) their task. Their task is to follow the rules, which ideally ensure that everyone is treated fairly. Whether this is achieved in practice is a different question, of course.
    – user151413
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 17:12
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Some thoughts in addition to the other answers:

  • In my experience, your professor telling administration in no uncertain manner that you have relevant work experience of x years or equivalent to x years at this university is your best bet. From what I've met, administration cannot decide themselves, they typically rely on the professor judging how relevant your work experience is.

    I'm not sure how well precedence cases work, since in my experience they tend to argue very explicitly your particular case. (To the point where they argue that changing public service employers within Germany in the same scientific subfield means you have only limited experience with the new employer)

  • While it is true that German PhDs typically require a Master or equivalent as prerequisite, people from abroad do do PhDs directly after their Bachelor. The universities where I have closer knowledge on the procedure (different Länder than RP, though) had the students do extra exams to prove they have an equivalent level of skills and knowledge as after a Master's in that field. (The same btw for students with Master applying for a PhD in a very different field.) As far as I know, the employment of these students was counted all the time into the usual Stufen experience.

    If you find that this is the procedure they follow at that university, you have a strong argument that your experience during your PhD cannot be dismissed.

  • I find it highly unusual that they actually require a degree, and I'd recommend to protest to downgrading your PhD to a Master equivalent. Requirements I'm familiar with in Germany are always "degree X or equivalent", and I think they have to allow equivalent skill/experience for legal reasons. If your PhD had coursework, you may be able to argue that even though no particular Master was awarded, the coursework (or the first x months) is equivalent to the Master, and the remaining part of your PhD is relevant work experience.

  • Keep in mind: they can rather easily assign you into fresh E13/3, which would otherwise require 3 years relevant work experience from fresh E13/1. I.e., what you negotiate for now are as many as possible of the 32 months of relevant working experience that you are missing.

  • To put some numbers to this: over the next 32 months, this is a total wage difference of about 5000 € net and 1900 € pension contributions (and some loss in unemployment benefits if needed), or about 5.5 % of your wage. (Further projection of having reached higher Stufen earlier are uncertain, since it is usual to change employers again after a first postdoc, and then new negotiations on the Stufe or similar come into play)


That being said, these negotiations are always a PITA even if you have a standard set of German degrees (you may also find yourself in Stufe 1 under those circumstances). OTOH, postdocs from abroad are not rare at all, so you may also ask around (or ask your professor to talk to colleagues) what successful arguments others had with this particular administration. (Like precedence case, but not on the legal level.)

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This does not really answer your question "how can I negotiate with the administration", which was addressed in the other answers (though maybe it does, because knowing the official rules should ideally help with that), but if you consult the relevant information:

https://oeffentlicher-dienst.info/pdf/tv-l/tv-l-nr12-anlage-a.pdf

it says for E13,

Entgeltgruppe 13
Beschäftigte mit abgeschlossener wissenschaftlicher Hochschulbildung und entsprechender Tätigkeit in der Forschung sowie sonstige Beschäftigte, die aufgrund gleichwertiger Fähigkeiten und ihrer Erfahrungen entsprechende Tätigkeiten ausüben.
(Hierzu Protokollerklärungen Nrn. 1 und 2)

Protokollerklärungen:
[...]
(2) 1Eine abgeschlossene wissenschaftliche Hochschulbildung liegt vor, wenn das Studium mit einer ersten Staatsprüfung oder mit einer Diplomprüfung oder mit einer Masterprüfung oder mit einer Magisterprüfung beendet worden ist. 2Diesen Prüfungen steht eine Promotion nur in den Fällen gleich, in denen die Ablegung einer ersten Staatsprüfung oder einer Diplomprüfung oder einer Masterprüfung oder einer Magisterprüfung nach den einschlägigen Ausbildungsvorschriften nicht vorgesehen ist.
[...]

So it basically says that to get in E13, you need a completed university education, which involves a study completed with a master's degree or the like - and that a PhD is only equivalent to that completed university education if in the corresponding system no master is foreseen.

Thus, it (1) says that the PhD can be counted as a completed university eduction, but (2) it can very well be interpreted (I'd say, quite compellingly so, but I'm not a lawyer) that in that case, the PhD counts as that higher university education which is a prerequisite for getting into E13 - and as such cannot counted also towards your experience beyond the prerequisite (just as your study and high school can't).

So, leaving aside whether this is fair, reasonable, or whether there are contrary precedents, I would say that the administration has a strong point, by the words of the official regulations (and it is their job to go by that).

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  • Thanks. Could you clarify what is the context of the pdf you linked? Regarding the "no master is forseen" certainly not since I enrolled directly in PhD Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 17:44
  • @user1868607 The PDF contains the official rules for the conditions to put someone in a specific level of TVL, such as E13. My interpretation of those rules is that for E13 in research, you need a master's degee, which can be replaced by a PhD without a master if your PhD did not require a master. But then, that PhD replaces the master, and thus, it is a prerequisite to get into E13 in the first place. Thus, it cannot be also counted as additional experience on top of the requirement to get into E13. (Otherwise, why not count undergrad studies, high school, ... ).
    – user151413
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 17:52
  • Your answer is valuable as it adds detail on what laws were ruling here which I didn't even get to see. For future OPs it turns out that there is room for negotiation but somehow signing directly (even if they tell you that it can be fixed later) complicates things more. So if you can don't sign and wait until the reasonable negotiations between your hirer and the university take place. In my case I was lucky to get a compensatory measure from an independent research institute that is not linked to the university. Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 21:28
  • @user1868607 In the end, I don't think it matters much whether you discuss this before you signed or after. While they can force you to do the job you signed a contract for, no reasonable superior in science will insist on that if you are determined to terminate the contract. Congratulations to the independent compensatory measure, but this is nothing one can rely on, and requires a sympathetic supervisor who has access to alternative funding sources.
    – user151413
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 21:54

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